The scenes on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri have caused national outrage not only for the racial tension over the killing of a young black man by the local police, but also due to the overtly militarized response to the rioting. The City of Ferguson did not get their military supplies by accident, instead they utilized a government program that sells local police forces these items at a discounted rate.
Beginning in 1997 the U.S. Department of Defense authorized the 1033 program, which allows local police forces to buy surplus military items. The intent of the program is to help local law enforcement officials with counter-drug and later counter-terrorism efforts. Over 8,000 federal and state law enforcement agencies participate in the program, and, to date, over $5 billion worth of items have been distributed to local police departments across the country. This includes, but is not limited to, assault rifles, body armor and armored vehicles.
The folks over at NextCity developed an infographic that illustrates what some of these military items could buy in terms of urban infrastructure. It’s easy to see that some of the more expensive items could translate into huge improvements for local public infrastructure repairs and fixes.
Hamilton County has also participated in the program. The available data covers the last ten years and has a few noteworthy items.
The largest find in the database is a 2006 transfer of 158 5.56mm rifles for $499 each. The rifles have a total value of $78,842. Additionally, Hamilton County received night vision equipment totaling at least $5,795.
Adding even more to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s arsenal, 23 7.62mm rifles, at $138 each, were received for a total of $3,174; and 62 more 5.56mm rifles were received in 2010 at $120 each for $7,440.
In total, the database shows that Hamilton County has obtained a total of 243 assault rifles for a value of $82,760; making it the largest transfer on the list.
While the total amount may not seem like a huge impact on municipal budgets, it is easy to imagine what even this sum of money could be used for if it was spent on more peaceful projects to keep citizens safe, such as creating more bike lanes, fixing potholes, streetlights or installing stop signs.
One such example locally is that the amount of money spent to give Hamilton County assault rifles could have covered the cost to plant more than 200 street trees.
It is important to note, however, that not all the stuff the county is getting is weapons. Hamilton County has also received medical devices and supplies, clothing, furniture, and other non-combat related accessories from the program.